Mechanized equipment chews through limbs and boles
of “slash” remaining after a thinning in this woodland
area south of Tijeras.
Pining for pinyon
Approximately a hundred and fifty foresters and range managers met
last week in Albuquerque to learn about pinyon-juniper woodlands.
The conference was a joint meeting of the Society of American Foresters
and the Society for Range Management. It wasn't the first time a
conference had been held to focus on the “short stature”
trees. As one speaker pointed out, six previous workshops from 1975
to 1997 had generated 272 articles on over sixteen hundred pages
of proceedings. Of course, all this was before pinyon trees started
dying by the millions.
Fifty-four million dead pinyons in New Mexico, one speaker suggested.
That would be one hundred million dead trees throughout the pinyon’s
(three different species) range in the United States, which takes
in the bulk of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.
That's only about 15 percent of existing trees, another speaker
optimistically offered. Tell that to someone in Santa Fe, Abiquiu,
Prescott, or any other die-off “hot spot,” where at
least to the untrained eye, almost every pinyon seemed to have taken
the hit. The tree counters have interesting data, though. It seems
that no size class has been immune. The deaths of small, little,
medium, large, and granddaddy trees seems to follow classic J-shaped
curves, indicating that all age classes are experiencing the same
ratio of mortality.
Throughout the three-day conference agreement and disagreement
emerged among the esteemed presenters. Everyone seems to agree that
many pinyon trees died during the 1950s drought, but whether this
current die-off event is much larger was debated. Bark beetles are
universally blamed as the primary causal agent of the tree deaths;
however, opinions varied on the drought conditions that weakened
the trees and made them vulnerable to the beetle outbreaks. Some
feel recent dry periods are part of normal weather fluctuations
while others feel global warming is a key part of the equation.
Overall, there were few tears shed for the trees that had died.
The general consensus is that, in the absence of regular fires burning
across the landscape as in presettlement times, pinyon and juniper
trees have been increasing in our woodlands and grasslands. The
trees intercept and transpire rainwater that would have otherwise
entered into groundwater, streams, and springs. In addition, grasses
and wildflowers are more likely to flourish where tree numbers have
decreased. When these plants grow beneath trees, soils are less
likely to erode. A study at Bandelier National Park illuminates
this situation. On a one-tenth-hectare plot in dense woodland, over
a thousand potsherds were found in soil that had eroded from just
one storm event.
The final conference day focused on ways to thin woodlands and
to utilize wood products. Pinyon and juniper firewood can be used
for more than heating homes via the traditional woodstove. Power
plants burning woody biomass produce far less pollution than coal-burning
plants. Not only is energy a marketable commodity, but energy credits
gained by creating less pollution can be marketed to companies and
countries in need of such credits to meet worldwide air-quality
guidelines. A Mountainair businessman also shared challenges of
creating new products utilizing pinyon and juniper wood fibers.
Pinyon-juniper woodlands cover approximately one quarter of New
Mexico and over one eighth of Arizona. These lands provide water,
forage for livestock and wildlife, wood products, and recently a
vast expansion of home sites. Foresters and range managers who attended
the conference, and those who will read the resulting conference
proceedings, are better prepared to make management decisions in
this important and seemingly fragile ecosystem.
Forester Mary Stuever can be contacted at email@example.com.
Commission approves purchase of bosque property
Almost two hundred acres of wildlife habitat and open space along
the Rio Grande bosque in Valencia County will be protected from
future development with the approval of an $800,000 purchase by
the New Mexico Game Commission.
The commission approved the purchase of the 192-acre Rio Abajo
property at its meeting on September 28 in Tucumcari. The money
is part of a $5 million land-conservation appropriation by the 2005
New Mexico Legislature for conservation actions that will benefit
wildlife and promote retention of open spaces. The legislation signed
by Governor Bill Richardson is being used to buy land or acquire
easements statewide for habitat conservation and restoration and
to protect open agricultural land.